The plight of Numerama and the future of copyright

Torrentfreak reports on a story involving the French P2P news site Numerama and the French courts. The courts have ordered Numerama to publish extracts of convictions of 27 copyright violators.

Although the court is compensating Numerama to the tune of €10,000 (about US$14,000), it is not surprising that Numerana is a bit worried about taking money from the pro-copyright lobby, even if it is indirectly. Some creative uses for the money have been proposed, and they run the gamut from buying servers for a file-sharing network to a donation to the (unfortunately named) Swedish Pirate Party.

This order comes even though Numerama is not involved in any of the cases. Such appears to be the quirkiness of French law. I question the wisdom of the move, and would still question it even if I believed the draconian copyright enforcement we face today is justified (which I don’t). For one, Numerama’s readers will probably see these people as martyrs or even heroes. With this in mind it is not clear at all just what the copyright holders, through their trade organizations, intend to accomplish.

We live in an age where the previous scarcity of recorded media no longer exists because of the advance of technology. Records, tapes, even CDs in the early years cost what they did because it was expensive and difficult to make copies. Now, all one has to do to make a copy is frequently no more than dragging icons from one window to another, or even typing in a command like cp -a music /media/travel5. That’s still a lot easier and faster than hooking up a tape deck to a record player ever was.

What has been the response of trade organizations like the MPAA and RIAA? Higher prices, and vicious attempts to restrict the freedom of the users. Everything is bits, and bits can be copied over and over again with no loss of quality; rather than embrace this, the companies which make up the MPAA and RIAA have tried to layer scarcity on top of it via Digital Restrictions Management (DRM). This is doomed to failure (already, the RIAA has admitted this by allowing Apple and Amazon to sell MP3 files without DRM).

Let’s define what copying, recording, and playback are, fundamentally (this is really as simple as it gets):

  • Copying is reading bits from a storage device (CD, DVD, hard drive, SD card) and writing the same bits again to another storage device.
  • Recording is reading bits from an input device (camera or microphone) and writing those bits to a storage device.
  • Playback is reading bits from a storage device and writing those same bits to an output device (video monitor or speakers).

All three are fundamentally the same operation. The only differences are where the bits come from and where they go.

The RIAA (and similar music/audio recording trade organizations) may finally be realizing this; when will the MPAA and television producers follow suit?